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The Most Important Shots From Episode 15 of ‘The Challenge: Total Madness’

With TJ’s final looming, this show finally got its mojo back!

MTV/Ringer illustration

The Challenge has always been a heavily edited show—the main thing that keeps it from feeling like an actual sport is the fact that every elimination challenge comes with about 600 camera cuts—but we can’t remember it ever being this boosted in post-production. Total Madness is flying through camera filters and low-grade graphics; it’s taking HUGE swings from the editing room. It’s, quite simply, astonishing. So, every week, we’ll collect the best moments of each episode in screenshots, sometimes adding context, sometimes letting the image itself speak a thousand words.

Home Again

Just wanna say: It’s nice to come back from a summer vacation and see a full moon overlaid on a graphic of a nuclear power plant.

Screenshots via MTV

We’re back, baby!

Crash Course

This week’s group challenge—and there was one more, despite what some overly optimistic competitors hoped—had contestants stand on a tower of barrels, while one contestant drove a car toward those towers at full speed, hitting the e-brake at the last second to spin out and topple as many barrels as possible. Like bowling, but faster and more furious.

(Side note: I know that there was already a Fast-themed episode this season, but why not use this challenge for that episode? Or why not just do another theme day? I would’ve appreciated it if this episode was in promotion of Tokyo Drift airing on Syfy for the 130th time in a month.)

(Second side note: This episode was called “Crash Into Me.” Unfortunately, Dave Matthews was not the person driving the car.)

Overall, it’s an absolutely sick challenge—that also puts quite the burden on the person driving. And yet no one crashes. Nelson (of course) completely whiffed …

And Kyle blew it because he tried to drift too soon. Great image, by the way—the man stopped like 30 feet in front of the barrels!

But maybe everyone else did so well because the car was an automatic? We’ve seen what happens when you ask these people to drive stick. In general, what I’m getting at is that maybe these people need to reconsider their career paths. Seriously—is being on The Challenge a more financially stable gig than doing film stunts? At least one of these people could have gotten work on Money Plane.

Well, Isn’t This Nice?

One of the main narratives of Total Madness has been the obvious fact that the caveat of needing to win an elimination has had a negative impact on the season’s overall gameplay. With everyone wanting to go into Purgatory, there’s been close to zero desperate politicking—and desperate politicking is what The Challenge is all about (aside from people getting too drunk and Tony cheating on his girlfriends). But finally, with every remaining contestant having already qualified for the final, the mind games and whispered backroom dealings are back, and what do ya know? It’s extremely entertaining to watch!

Contestants who have coasted along all season are suddenly sweating, people are revealing too much or too little, and the possibility of someone saying one thing but doing another is at an all-time high. It feels like I’ve just walked out of an underground bunker that I’ve been living in for the past few months.

Of course, because this season is just weird, Rogan eliminates any intrigue in the guys’ elimination by voting himself in. Everyone looks at him like, “Bro, you know how this game works, right?”

But it gets really good when it comes time to nominate a girl. First, Jenny votes for Dee (who is still on the show) and Dee votes for Jenny. Then, Bayleigh and Melissa more or less throw their votes away by saying each other’s names, creating a four-way tie and leaving the decision to the guys. That opens the door for Cory and Nelson to vote for Jenny since they’ve had mild beef with her all season. Rogan—who said the phrase “bless her cotton socks” this episode—then clinches it by going with Jenny, since she slipped up in politicking by telling the entire house that she was going to vote him into elimination. For her part, Jenny is completely flabbergasted—she even asks Bayleigh and Melissa to change their votes, as if that’s something that’s even allowed.

That then leads to a whole dustup between Melissa and the members of her alliance—Jenny, Johnny Bananas, and Kyle—who rightly point out that Melissa inadvertently sent Jenny in by wasting her vote on Bayleigh. Melissa gets very teary-eyed. Jenny cries a lot. A heart-to-heart is required. It’s really tremendous TV; something I’ve been craving all season. And if you don’t believe me, just take Bayleigh’s facial expressions as proof.

This is more like the TV show we all know and love.

Doing It for the Family

The last third of Total Madness has been heavily focused on Cory and his quest to win $1 million for his baby. The last four episodes or so have featured at least one shot of Cory kissing a giant stack of photos of his child. It’s hard to say if this is due to MTV reediting the season after cutting ties with Dee, but there’s a chance it’s not, because in this episode, Cory’s best friend Nelson asked the tribunal to put him into elimination instead of Cory. (Personally, I thought all the baby stuff was either setting up a Cory victory or a devastating loss.) “Just put me in, man,” Nelson asks Kyle and Johnny, who are both shocked.

“Cory has a little girl at home,” he continues. “He has another kid on the way. I’d rather give the better shot at winning this million dollars than me… I think about my life and I think about his life, and I’d rather he get the better shot. I’ll go down there and do what I have to do.” I love that while Nelson is explaining this selfless act, Kyle is looking at him as if he’s an alien.

If I may: Nelson is a total idiot, but not for this. Sacrificing himself for Cory is likely the kindest, most considerate, most morally righteous thing anyone has ever done in the 35-season run of The Challenge. It’s beautiful! Nelson and Cory have been friends since making it to the final on Invasion of the Champions, and while they’ve never been the best competitors, clearly they’ve gotten something more long-lasting out of this show. You don’t normally watch The Challenge for its testaments of true friendship; this was genuinely touching.

Hall Brawl! Hall Brawl! Hall Brawl!

They saved the best for last. One of the main reasons loyalists call The Challenge a sport is because of this elimination, a brutal riff on the Oklahoma drill, which was literally BANNED by the NFL in 2019. But The Challenge isn’t afraid (read: The Challenge has no concussion protocol or players union). In fact, this drill is one of the show’s time-honored traditions.

The Challenge has used a variation of Hall Brawl throughout the series, sometimes involving four contestants, and other times making the contestants run in a circular corridor rather than straight at each other. Total Madness used the elimination’s most intense format. The pathway in question was straight, and the corridor itself was also narrower than usual. In past seasons, contestants have been able to minimize physical contact and go around their opponents, but on Wednesday night, the only way to the other side was through the opponent. And with that said, here’s a bunch of gruesome screenshots of humans bashing into each other.

They’re just wearing tiny little helmets for this! It’s ridiculous! Look at Nelson’s face afterward!

In the end, Jenny ran through Dee—MTV must be ecstatic to finally see her go—while Nelson’s act of friendship was obliterated by Rogan, who has at least 30 pounds on the guy. And with that, we’re headed to TJ’s final. What an episode: a mix of dramatic politics, inspiring friendship, and absurd violence. The Challenge just got its mojo back.